And they call themselves pro-life

February 26, 2008

Over recent years I have been gradually moving from a strongly “pro-life”/anti-abortion stand (influenced of course by my good Christian upbringing) to what I feel is a more balanced, realistic view of this issue.

I have been thinking about posting on this for a while, but I’m not sure I have much to add to this article by George Monbiot.

A study published in the Lancet shows that between 1995 and 2003 the global rate of induced abortions fell from 35 per 1000 women each year to 29(7)… When you look at the broken-down figures, it becomes clear that… the incidence of abortion is highest in conservative and religious societies. In the largely secular nations of western Europe, the average rate is 12 abortions per 1000 women. In the more religious southern European countries, the average rate is 18. In the United States, where church attendance is still higher, there are 23 abortions for every 1000 women(9), the highest level in the rich world. In Central and South America, where the Catholic Church holds greatest sway, the rates are 25 and 33 respectively. In the very conservative societies of East Africa, it’s 39(10).

…But while his church causes plenty of suffering in the rich nations, this doesn’t compare to the misery inflicted on the poor. Chillingly, as the Lancet paper shows, there is no relationship between the legality and the incidence of abortion. Women who have no access to contraceptives will try to terminate unwanted pregnancies whatever the consequences might be. A report by the World Health Organisation shows that almost half the world’s abortions are unauthorised and unsafe(16). In eastern Africa and Latin America, where religious conservatives ensure that terminations remain illegal, they account for almost all abortions. Methods include drinking turpentine or bleach, shoving sticks or coat hangers into the uterus(17) and pummelling the abdomen, which often causes the uterus to burst, killing the patient(18). The WHO estimates that between 65 000 and 70 000 women die as a result of illegal abortions every year, while five million suffer severe complications. These effects, the organisation says, “are the visible consequences of restrictive legal codes.”

An abortion is certainly something no woman ever wants to have, and in an ideal world I am sure I would probably be “pro-life”.  But we do not live in an ideal world, we live in this one, and in this one women are hurt and die for a lack of access to contraceptives and safe abortions.    For that reason I support legalised abortion, paired with good sex education and the widespread provision of contraceptives. This is what will save lives.

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